Sundaram Tagore New York will host the works of artist Anila Quayyum Agha

A Beautiful Despair — by Anila Quayyum Agha.

Mohammad Yusuf, Feature Writer

Sundaram Tagore Gallery will host an exhibition titled Anila Quayyum Agha: A Moment to Consider (September 8 – October 8) in its New York spaces. It consists of new paintings, drawings and light installations by renowned Pakistani-American artist Anila Quayyum Agha, known for her immersive, illuminated and suspended cubes.

This is Agha’s first solo exhibition at Sundaram Tagore New York. Agha’s work has been the subject of eight museum exhibitions since 2019. For this exhibition, she reinvents ornamental motifs from history in metal, resin and paper using traditional and contemporary craft techniques.

The work, which ranges from monumental laser-cut steel sculptures to intimate hand-embroidered designs, pays homage to artists and artisans who, historically, have remained unrecognized and nameless, despite the importance of their artistic production.

The centerpiece of the show is a large-scale immersive light installation commissioned by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Texas in 2021.

A Beautiful Despair is part of Agha’s award-winning cube series, which has garnered critical acclaim and drawn crowds to museums and public spaces around the world since 2014. The laser-cut designs that embellish the lacquered steel sculpture are the artist’s reinterpretation of floral motifs and geometric patterns found in Islamic art and architecture in Asia and Africa.

Agha also presents Stealing Beauty (Steel Garden – After Durer’s A Great Piece of Turf), a vast three-dimensional light installation created especially for the exhibition.


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The mirrored stainless steel layered wall relief is laser cut with sinuous floral designs comprising visual elements of South Asian Islamic culture interwoven with designs by 19th century British textile designer William Morris, who was inspired by Islamic art and architecture he encountered in his travels.

When activated by multiple light sources, the glowing installation casts a jungle of flora-like shadows that appear to float on the wall; it is a metaphor for the tangled complexities of contemporary life.

The exhibition also marks the beginning of a series of resin paintings in which the artist expands his use of color and explores pattern in new ways. Agha departs from its signature simplified palettes in favor of bold hues inspired by the high-contrast color combinations popular in South Asian and African textiles.

The bright colors accentuate both the motif and the areas of negative space, hitherto placed on a simple white or black background in his embroidery or in hollows in his sculptures.

Sundaram Tagore 2 Paradise (Mughal Gardens – Patterned Cube) II.

Agha’s labor-intensive process builds the surface in stages, with layers of colored resin applied to a substrate.

The process can take twelve to sixteen hours per design. The color is delicately poured by hand to fill the precisely incised grooves. After about 24 hours, when the resin has hardened, the surface is leveled and the process begins again with the next color. Each work is composed of six to twelve colors.

Although made using technology and totally contemporary in their aesthetics, each work is steeped in history. Along with formal elements inspired by traditional Islamic art, the unique application of color references the centuries-old craft of pietra dura, the decorative inlay technique that flourished in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Pietra dura was used throughout Europe and eventually in India, notably at the court of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who commissioned one of the world’s most exquisite examples of craftsmanship, the Taj Mahal.

For Agha, the opulent structure is a source of inspiration and fascination – not just for the sheer beauty of the lavishly detailed stonework, but the inherent contradiction in the one-man monument to love extinguishing the lives of thousands of craftsmen. unrecognized who built it.

Also on display will be works selected from a series of embroidered designs recently featured in Mysterious Inner Worlds, the artist’s 2022 solo exhibition at the University of New Mexico Museum of Art, as well as new works created for this exhibition.

Agha, who is formally trained in textile design, creates bright designs on paper using hand stitching and beading to highlight the disparities in how we evaluate work based on gender, ethnicity or of the economic situation – a theme she frequently explores in her practice.

Articulated in reflective metal threads and glass beads, the drawings play with shadow and light like his sculptures. The works on paper draw on memories of her mother’s quilting circles, but also reference women’s work, often without pay or recognition.

“In my works, I use a combination of textile processes and sculptural methodologies to challenge the gender of women’s works as inherently domesticated and excluded from being considered an art form,” says Agha.

She came to the United States from Pakistan in 2000, and even while still a student, she was often told that as a woman, especially a woman of color and an immigrant, she would never do advance her career if she continued to use techniques associated with crafting. or visual elements specific to Islamic culture.

But after seeing exhibits featuring Egyptian artist Ghada Amer’s subversive embroidered paintings, African-American artist Faith Ringgold’s hand-stitched quilts, and multimedia installations created using textile techniques by American artists Anne Wilson and Ann Hamilton, Agha knew there was room for the kind of art she wanted to make that was authentic to her life experiences while conveying universal truths.

She lives and works in Augusta, Georgia and Indianapolis, Indiana.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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